Loyalty to the leader is paramount.
Fidelity to law enforcement comes second.
Sound familiar? Just ask our American friends, who have been wrestling with the spectre of obstruction of justice ever since Donald Trump won the presidency — and trampled on the FBI by firing its director, James Comey.
Now, Ontarians are facing their own moment of truth as the layers of deception are peeled back from the premier’s alleged secret meddling over the next OPP chief. Doug Ford’s loyal chief.
The allegations from interim Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Brad Blair about who will succeed him as the province’s top cop amount to a political earthquake. Blair and many in the OPP are up in arms because they believe the fix was in for a hostile takeover of the very police force that polices our politicians in power.
Ron Taverner, a personal pal of the premier, didn’t meet the original qualifications for the job — until a hand-picked hiring committee downgraded the job qualifications, two days after the competition opened. Unless the public can make the premier understand that he has crossed a line, Taverner will take over as OPP chief Monday.
The outgoing OPP chief has blown the whistle on Ford and Taverner. But are we listening?
Are Ontarians to be governed by the rule of law, or by the misrule of a miscreant who bends the rules and rewrites our laws? Shall our premier indulge his personal peccadilloes — in a customized camper paid for “off the books” to deceive taxpayers and lawmakers — and then cover his tracks?
Consider the devastating allegations in the OPP commissioner’s detailed submission — on official letterhead — to the independent Ombudsman’s Office this week seeking a formal investigation:
The hiring process “remains enveloped in questions of political interference,” Blair wrote. “To have this new command assumed without addressing this matter will cause dysfunction in the service.”
His appeal followed a public protest from a previous OPP chief, Chris Lewis, over the rigged hiring process that has discredited a police force that requires public legitimacy to do its job:
“The fix was in,” Lewis complained publicly, referring to the Ford-Taverner tag team. “There’s old relationships there, we all know it, and I think it was a travesty that this occurred.”
This is not mere political disruption, it is disrespect — for both the police officers and the taxpayers whom Ford had pledged to serve. Detailed allegations that the premier’s office conspired to flout procurement rules and political norms are a devastating indictment of Ford’s brief time in power.
According to Blair, Ford bulldozed the OPP command to get the bodyguards he wanted, demanding a meeting with then-commissioner Vince Hawkes, and letting it be known that if he did not acquiesce, “perhaps a new commissioner would.” Ford’s office also asked the OPP to procure a “large camper type vehicle and have it modified to the specifications the premier’s office would provide us,” adding that it be “kept off the books … hidden from the public record.”
This is a scandal unlike any other, for it is almost as much a question of competence as corruption. This isn’t just the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, it is the group that couldn’t keep its story straight.
People of all political stripes and partisan colours cannot but be disgusted by the whiff of favouritism, the smell of meddling, and the stench of coverup, for this is not merely a matter of right or left, but reckless wrongdoing. This is not about ideology but idiocy.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps the premier is not as foolish as he appears to be on this matter.
Even if he underestimated the reaction of the OPP — assuming no one would call out the premier’s office for gaming the hiring process — perhaps Ford has correctly calculated that the damage can be contained, that he can ride out this storm as he has so many others in his past, that he can have the last laugh.
Maybe he will get away with it. Possibly the public will put up with it. Perhaps the press will move on. Presumably the opposition will go on holiday. Ultimately the OPP will be transformed into the Ontario Premier’s Police.
And Ontarians will grow accustomed to their chief executive interfering in law enforcement at the very top, just like in America. Trump fired Comey, and Ford hired Taverner.
In the U.S., disruption and disrespect are now second nature. Today in Ford’s Ontario, loyalty to the leader Trumps fidelity to law enforcement.
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn